47 Years of Student Run Cinema
Student Film Society of the Year 2002, 2005, 2006
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This ravishing tribute to the theatre would today be called 'Children of the Gods'. The 'gods' were the worst seats, furthest from the stage, where the audience responded honestly and boisterously to the actors below - player and public alike being Les Enfants du Paradis.
Set in 1840s Paris and centred around the Funambules Theatre on the Boulevard du Crime, the story follows the fortunes of four men whose lives are interwoven by their love for the same woman, the beautiful actress Garance (Arletty).
Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault), boyish and love-lorn, might become the greatest mime of his day (and Barrault was); ebullient Frederick Lemai[circumflex over the i]tre (Pierre Brasseur) aspires to be the greatest actor; and fiery Lacenaire (Marcel Hemand) could transcend his criminal past to be a great playwright.
These three really existed, but the story is fictional, as is the fourth character - the icy Count Edward de Monteray (Louis Salou) who requires exclusive patronage of Garance. For her part; she fully loves only one of them.
Filming began in 1943 while France was still occupied. Their own cinema shunned, the Germans thought French filmmaking essential to the Occupation. Of some 350 films made, Les Enfants was the most ambitious, eluding the invaders in its subtle premise that drama could flourish only where men are free.
In Jacques Prévert's script so full of wit and aphorism, farce and tragedy, Garance best embodies this idea; she is the forerunner of emancipated woman, a worldly sophisticate, rejecting those who try to possess her. Prévert's confidence is such that there is even a scene where, through Baptiste gushing his loss (Garance) to the landlady Madame Hermine, he openly refers to the trick of theatrical exposition.
And the artifice of cinema has costs: the theatre and a quarter of a mile of street fronts were built. Trauner, a designer and Kosma, a composer, worked secretly, and many of the 1,800 extras were in the Resistance, using filming as daytime cover. Special permission was needed for a wartime film of such magnitude (its two parts total over three hours) and production was stalled several times, sometimes by director Marcel Carné who was determined it should be premiered after the Liberation.
With its many marvellous characters, its broad sweep and its Free French spirit, Les Enfants represents the collaboration of Carné and Prévert at its best. (Less happy, that of Robert Le Vigan, the original old clothes man, who disappeared when the Nazis did, to be replaced by Pierre Renoir.) Carné's handling of principals and crowds is masterly, and, like Mayo's costumes, the music, acting and photography are exquisite. Voted the best French film even Les Enfants du Paradis was described by Bernard Levin as 'a masterpiece, a work of art of exceptional and universal quality, a voice which speaks directly to the human heart.'
Review by Gio MacDonald
Taken from EUFS Programme 1994-95